Selling winter sports gear is a tough gig. You're severely limited by climate and geography, and even in places with the ideal mix of snow and terrain, you'll still find loads of people that aren't interested in playing in the cold. Then there's the whole global warming thing hanging over your head. These types of limitations inspired Germany's KHW, the self-described world leader in plastic toboggans, to develop a special sled purpose-built for the sand. Summertime is taking a snow day.
When I tracked down KHW's sand toboggan at this week's Nuremberg International Toy Fair, I was immediately disappointed. I was expecting something high-tech, maybe a carbon-fiber or aluminum honeycomb body and slick, waxed rails. Instead, it just looked like a regular plastic snow sled with basic plastic rails.
As I learned later, after reading KHW's press kit, there's much more to the design. The design of the rails, in particular, proved a major obstacle in moving sledding from the snow to the sand. Unlike the slick, low-friction surface of snow, sand isn't naturally suited to gliding atop with sports gear. It takes a little extra engineering.
KHW realized that it couldn't just stick a regular set of snow runners on the sled because they wouldn't actually glide effectively on sand. It looked to the existing sport of sand skiing, but there athletes maintain proper glide on rough sand by frequently waxing their bases. That might work for a sport like summer skiing, but sledding is supposed to be a fun, simple sport nostalgic of childhood, not maintenance-heavy work. A flat wood base, as used on purpose-built sandboards, wouldn't give the sled the turning capabilities KHW had in mind.
So after determining that existing options wouldn't create the product performance it wanted, KHW got to work with help from some key partners, including the Fraunhofer Institute UMSICHT and the Ilmenau University of Technology's polymer department. The parties worked together to create a runner material that provides low enough friction to slide on sand while also offering the ruggedness needed to hold up to run after run of grinding against rough granules. The special plastic is blended with abrasion-resistant and friction-reducing materials, and the parties believe it will offer optimal performance for sand sledding. They have started testing it out on the hot sand of Namibia with help from Henrik May, a former Nordic Combined snow skier turned sand-ski instructor and world-record holder.
Outside of its high-tech plastic rails, the sand toboggan is a rather simple vessel with a central seat and side handles. KHW says that it's designed to be ridden lying down on slopes up to 30 degrees, but its animated video shows riders sitting. It looks as though the rider will put his feet or hands on the ends of the rails in order to help stabilize and steer.
The sand toboggan KHW debuted in Nuremberg is a prototype, and the company plans to finish development and get it to market later this year. It seems to be focusing heavily on the Middle East and Africa but also mentions potential in Australia, Central Asia, and North and South America. It believes the sled could be a jumping off point for other year-round sledding products, including beach and grass sleds.